You don't have to be the next Michael Phelps to land a swimming scholarship, nor do you have to dive a perfect 10 - but in order to receive a generous scholarship, especially in top program universities and colleges, you definitely must have an impressive track record and statistics. In high-visibility NCAA conferences like the Big Ten, fast times and scores are crucial. College coaches start recruiting prospective team members while they are still in their junior or senior year of high school. Therefore, getting a scholarship is largely dependent on personal performance in the water - but progress and potential are just as crucial. Coaches scout for not only the most talented athletes but also the ones who show the most promise and potential for growth at the collegiate level.
In addition to fast times and solid dive scores, coaches are interested in swimmers who are very diverse and versatile in their strokes. Often, collegiate swimmers change up their stroke or yardage in college, depending on the team's demographic and need. If a coach needs to strengthen a certain aspect of the team - say, the distance group - they may move their swimmers into different events. Coaches of course still value the strength and performance of a swimmer who excels in their primary stroke. Likewise, divers who try and execute higher-difficulty dives are valued. They key to success and increasing scholarship opportunities is consistency and improvement. Swimmers who are routinely dropping their times and improving their scores are more valuable that those who can only perform well once or twice throughout the season.
Swimming/diving scholarships are not only reserved for Division I or Big Ten athletes, so don't rule out smaller programs when applying for scholarships. You could be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond. Typically, the better the swim team, the harder it is to get a spot on the team, and the less funding you'll receive if you are not one of the top-performing athletes. Coaches are looking to attract the best team possible rather than spending a good portion of their funding on one athlete. Coaches in top-tier programs will grant the largest scholarship dollars to the best swimmer/divers, but athletes whose performance improves throughout their collegiate career may be eligible to receive more scholarship money. Scholarships can be full-rides or partial scholarships and even if you are not the strongest swimmer on the team but still wish to compete, you can tryout and serve as a walk-on. Based on your season performance, you may be eligible to receive more scholarship money.
Scholarships will be regulated by associations such as the NCAA or NAIA, depending on your school, so be sure to check the recruiting rules that govern your school of interest, or talk to the university's or college's head coach. Remember that athletic performance alone will not guarantee scholarship nor will it be the only criteria necessary to receive a scholarship. Schools and coaches look for strong GPA and academic records when recruiting - it shows them that their prospective athletes will be able to manage the academic rigor of the school in addition to competing. In fact, certain programs require a minimum GPA while being on the team, in order to continue participation - you may lose your scholarship if you fail to uphold that standard.
For additional information about swimming/diving scholarships and awards based on different criteria, try conducting a free college scholarship search at Scholarships.com.
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